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Rare US Model 1817 Common Rifle by N Starr & Son, c. 1842

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Rare Model 1817 Common Flintlock Rifle, Nathan Starr & Son c. 1842

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This is a scarce Nathan Starr & Son contract U.S. Model 1817 Flintlock Common Rifle from 1842.

This particular Model 1817 was manufactured by Nathan Starr as part of his second Model 1817 Contract with the Ordnance Department of only 6,000 rifles and was manufactured and delivered in 1842. Starr only manufactured 1,500 rifles that year under the US Government contract.

Rifle development in the early years of the United States was based on the frontier use of Kentucky and Pennsylvania rifles. The first regulation U.S. rifle was the US Model 1803, manufactured at Harpers Ferry in 1803, firing a .54 caliber ball from a relatively short (compared to earlier civilian rifle designs) 33" barrel. The Model 1803 Rifle was manufactured until 1807 and several of these rifles are known to have accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the west coast. Model 1803 Rifles were also carried by Zebulon Pike during his southwest expedition in 1806-1807. Slightly over 4,000 Model 1803 Rifles were manufactured during their five years of production at the national armory at Harpers Ferry. The Model 1803 was a half-stock weapon with the ramrod exposed along the bottom of the barrel.

Effective use of Rifles during the War of 1812 solidified its battlefield reputation amongst soldiers and officers alike and that brought about a plan to create three new regiments comprising Riflemen. In 1813, four pattern rifles were designed, all of which were nearly identical copies of the earlier US Model 1803 Rifle. This led to Harpers Ferry producing the Model 1814 Rifle, which was essentially a very slightly modified US Model 1803 Rifle. The Model 1814 was also produced under contract beginning in 1814 by Henry Deringer and Robert Johnson. While there was considerable variation in the final production rifles, most had barrels from 32" to 36" in length and the barrels were octagonal in shape.

This led to the US Rifle, Model of 1817, also known as the Common Rifle. While the origin of the name "Common Rifle" is somewhat murky, it is generally believed that the name is derived from the fact that the Model 1817 Rifle, which was being produced at the same time as the Hall's Patent Breech Loading Rifle, was the more "common" muzzle loading type of rifle then being manufactured (the Hall Breech Loading Rifle was undeniably "uncommon" for that early period).

While Model 1817 is now the generally accepted designation for this rifle, it has been referred to by several different names over the years, including simply "Rifle," under Ordnance Department contracts up until 1840, "Common Rifles," from 1840 until 1845, "Common Rifle, Full-stocked; 1819," in the 1841 Ordnance Manual, and the "1819 Rifle."

The first official reference to the Model 1817 Rifle is from a letter from the Chief of Ordnance, Colonel Decius Wadsworth to Harpers Ferry Armory Superintendent James Stubblefield on January 16, 1817, when Colonel Wadsworth wrote, "I hope you are going on with the Model of the Rifle, & hope to see it before the Rising of Congress." It is unclear when the Harpers Ferry design was approved by the Secretary of War, but records indicate that five pattern rifles were manufactured at Harpers Ferry in 1818 and two additional rifles were manufactured at Harpers Ferry in 1819, all of which were to be the "pattern" of the rifle used by contractors when manufacturing the rifles under contract with the Ordnance Department.

The Model 1817 Rifle is significant in that it was the first US Model firearm manufactured exclusively by contractors and not by one of the national armories. Although the design, and pattern models, came from Harpers Ferry Arsenal, all rifles were manufactured by one of five contractors: Henry Deringer, Robert Johnson, Robert & J.D. Johnson, Simeon North and Nathan Starr & Son. All of these contractors were located in Middletown, Connecticut, except for Deringer, whose factory was located in Philadelphia. The Model 1817 Flintlock Common Rifle was manufactured from 1819 until 1846 with only 38,267 produced.

This particular Model 1817 Flintlock Common Rifle is from the second contract awarded to Starr on March 17, 1840. The first contract awarded to Starr was to the firm “Nathan Starr” on December 9, 1823 for 4,000 rifles. The firm changed to “Nathan Starr & Son,” and that was the firm name under the second contract for 6,000 rifles. This second contract produced Model 1817 Rifles in 1840 to 1845 with 1,500 produced in 1842 the year this rifle was manufactured.

The original 36" barrel is present and is in very good original condition. The original touchhole is present and has not been enlarged or otherwise modified. The Barrel still retains considerable remnants of its original acid browned barrel finish with the balance exhibiting a largely pewter patina with old pinprick pitting on the upper, exposed portion. The top, rear portion of the Barrel has numerous stampings including a serif “H” assembly stamp, a raised “P” proof stamp in a sunken oval, the serif "U.S." stamping and the serif “JCB” stamp of Joseph C. Bragg, who was an Ordnance inspector in New England in the 1840s. The bottom of the barrel has two serif “D” and one “5” assembly stamps.

The original Breech Plug is present and the tang is correctly marked with the date “1842.” The bottom of the tang has a witness line adjacent to a corresponding witness line on the bottom of the barrel. The back side of the tang also has a matching serif “D” assembly stamps. The tang is secured into the stock with its original slotted screw. This screw has a matching serif “V” assembly stamp. The original v-notch Rear Sight is brazed to the top of the barrel approximately 2 1/2" to the rear of the Lower Band. The bore exhibits considerable original rifling with normal pitting in evidence and the bore is clear to the touchhole. The original Front Sight is present and is an iron blade integral to its iron rectangular base that is brazed to the barrel approximately 1 ¼” to the rear of the muzzle.

All three original Barrel Bands are present. The Upper Band exhibits a largely pewter with old corrosion marks and is the standard two-ring type with rectangular open space in between and is 1 11/16" long at the top and 2 9/16" long at the bottom. The original Upper Band Spring with integrated post is present on the stock and it secures the band properly.

The Middle Band exhibits a pewter patina with its original upper sling swivel riveted in place that rotates freely. The Middle Band Spring is present and properly secures the middle band.

The original Lower Band also exhibits a pewter patina with evidence of old corrosion and measures 9/16" long at the top and 1" at the bottom. It has the matching serif “V” assembly stamp on the interior surface. Its original Band Spring is present and also retains considerable original brown finish. All three Barrel Bands secure tightly to the stock and barrel when assembled.

The Upper Band secures the original Trumpet Head Brass Ramrod that is threaded at the end for ball and wiper. The brass portion shows an attractive dark mustard patina. The balance of the Ramrod exhibits an even pewter and plum finish along its entire length. The Ramrod secures tightly into the stock.

The original Trigger Guard furniture is present and it exhibits a mixed plum and pewter patina with evidence of old corrosion present. This Trigger Guard has the skeleton pistol grip, which are rather unique to most of the Model 1817 Common Rifles. The Lower Sling Swivel is present and is correctly riveted to the skeleton pistol grip itself and rotates freely. The Original Trigger Bow measures 1" across at the widest point and retains the same finish as the Guard. Both Trigger Guard Screws are the slotted type and both slots exhibit slight marring. The original Trigger, which is suspended from the lateral pin in the stock, exhibits considerable original heat-treated blue finish and it moves freely.

The Lockplate exhibits a pewter and plum patina with minor pinprick pitting on the surface. The Lockplate measures 5 7/16" by 1 3/16" and has a flat surface with beveled edges forward of the cock and has a convex surface to the rear of the cock. The rear of the cock is correctly marked “MIDD TN / CONN / 1842.” Forward of the Cock is the Starr stylized “N. STARR & SON” stamp in an arch over a sunburst over a serif “U.S.” stamp. Both original Lockplate Screws are present and one has the matching serif “V” assembly stamp. The original modified “L” Side Plate exhibits a generally smooth plum and pewter patina.

The original Cock, or Hammer, is 2 15/16" tall and has a convex surfaced body with heart-shaped hole in the throat. The Cock exhibits generally a plum and pewter patina with areas of pinprick pitting throughout from firing. The Upper Jaw retains the same finish and the cock itself and the adjustment Screw, with slotted head and hole still turns and adjusts the Upper Jaw smoothly. The inward facing sides of the cock and upper jaw are both stippled to hold the flint.

The original round-bottomed Flash Pan is inclined upwards (to the rear, to direct the flash away from the firer) without a fence and is made of brass and exhibits a beautiful burnt mustard patina. The Frizzen measures 1 3/4" by 7/8" with the top portion inclined towards the front of the rifle. The front face is convex and the tail is straight. The front, convex portion of the Frizzen and the rear, flat striking surface both retain a very pleasing pewter patina. The Frizzen Spring remains very strong. The Frizzen closes securely over the Pan and it opens crisply and stays secured when in the forward position. Both the Frizzen and Frizzen Spring Screws are single slotted and both have only slight marring to the slots and both have double serif “G” assembly stamps on their faces.

The interior surface of the lock generally exhibits a dark patina with areas of old pitting. The back of the brass pan has a matching serif “V” assembly stamp. The original Tumbler has the matching “GG” assembly stamp. The original Sear has a matching serif “G” assembly stamp. The Sear Spring is still strong. The horseshoe-shaped bridle has a matching serif “GG” assembly stamp as does the Sear Screw and Tumbler Screw. The lock mechanism still functions perfectly.

The original black walnut stock is in fine condition. The original steel oval Patch Box Lid on the right side of the stock measures 4 3/16" by 1 11/16" and exhibits a mixed pewter and plum patina on the exterior surface. The interior of the lid has a serif “V” and a “3” stamp. The Hinge is the correct and original 1 13/16" piano-style hinge at the bottom and is secured by its original single slot screws. The Hinge is very secure and there is no play in it open or closed. The 3/8" wide catch at the top is secured by a single, slotted screw in unmarred condition. On the left stock flat are the original inspection cartouches. The leftmost one is an oval with what appears to be a script “JEC” stamp. The other cartouche has script letters in elongated oval but the cartouche initials are not readable.

The original Butt Plate measures 4 1/16" by 1 7/8" with straight side profile and convex surface and the 2" Tang has a rounded end. Just forward of the tang screw is the serif “US” stamp. The Butt Plate Screws are both single slotted and both are unmarred. The Butt Plate exhibits a pewter patina with old corrosion.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful U.S. martial arms ever manufactured. This particular rifle remains in its original flint in every respect and is a fine example of these rare and important early 19th Century military flintlock rifles.

This flintlock rifle is an antique so it can be shipped to anyone. This rifle will also come with a historic writeup and a CD containing all of the photos in the listing. I accept Visa and MasterCard and charge NO FEES. Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like additional photos posted.


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